Happy Birthday to Me is Not Enough

I suppose everybody has an ego at some level or another (I don’t mean in the Freudian way). I do too, but I really, really don’t like being the center of attention.

When my husband threw me a surprise birthday party some years ago and 50 people showed up at my door, I shut it. When I wrote a whiny, little Medium piece about ageism on my birthday a couple of years ago, lots of you were kind enough to write super-wonderful responses and — I never replied. (Please know that I read them all and they were much appreciated, despite my failure to cope!) When my new (at the time) boss asked my husband to tell her something about me, he said “She’s too nice.” I about died. Compliments are something to be deflected. I say that I’ll do better about graciously just accepting them, but I don’t.

I always liked the relative anonymity of writing; I didn’t expect to find a community on Medium. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I don’t need to be “special,” even on my birthday. But here is what I really want, what is apparently so hard to come by for anyone in this life, and that is basic respect. This doesn’t mean you have to love me or even agree with me on many things. I mean, I am hardly perfect but I like to think I’m a relatively decent person — I certainly try. I am just a small piece, though: I’m not just talking about me, but rather all of us. I’d like to think that most of us try, and most of us are worthy of that basic respect.

Basic respect is the glue that holds civilization together. It’s why we don’t murder or steal or rape; it’s the logic behind religion and love thy neighbor. We talk about manners and laws and infrastructure, but at the center it’s really about respect. It’s a recognition that each of us has something in our core that makes us worthy of walking on this earth and engaging in meaningful interaction. We cannot function without this societal contract, and yet — at the moment, we are.

Trump and our current Congress respect no one. Different people have different value systems, and life and even any kind of god is meaningless to this group; elected to support all Americans, all they care about is power and the almighty dollar. They retain their power through fear tactics, by tearing people down, rather than building anyone up. They would turn neighbor on neighbor, whites vs. blacks, men against women, all of us against anyone born elsewhere. They’d have us think that anyone who is not the exact same demographic is somehow less than human.

In the meantime, they’re hoping that their followers will be too fearful to notice that their standard of living is going down. Their educational opportunities are evaporating. Climate change is wreaking havoc, dooming future generations. Their individual rights are eroding. Their health care options are such that a single major illness will do their family in.

Is the right to call someone a libtard, or to call the police on a black person for being black, really worth more than all of those things? I can’t even imagine.

Of course, fear and hate are nothing new; I’m sure it’s as old as humankind. There were the Greeks and the Romans, the Crusades, slavery and Jim Crow, Japan vs. China, colonialism, Nazi Germany, apartheid, two world wars, endless strife in the Middle East…one could go on for days. Humans of New York recently covered the not-too-distant genocide in Rwanda, and too many American readers were relatively clueless; shocked and appalled; utterly unable to see the parallels to our own country right now. And it’s all because someone calls god by a different name, is born a few shades darker, dares to love someone who looked too much like themself.

What is it about difference that scares us so much? Too many of us live in cocoons, unwilling or unable to interact with anyone even slightly different than ourselves — even to the point of throwing away our own kids if they turn out to be gay. How is that even a consideration — how can a heart be that stunted? How is it that the majority of us white people can figure out that bad white people in the news don’t represent all of whiteness, but extrapolate what some black people do to an entire race? Or believe that all Hispanics are “rapists and murderers” despite all stats to the contrary?

Why are we not smarter than this, better than this? And how can we not recognize that politicians are exploiting this fear to their advantage?

People need to rethink themselves on a regular basis — take a step back and see if we really are who we believe we are or who we want to be.

I had this theory for many years that life begins around 30 because that’s when we’ve settled most of the questions around what we want to do with our lives, who we want to be with, what we value. I think that still holds true for the most part, but I’ve added some layers of complexity to it.

Some people become more of what they are, while others fade a bit. Sometimes a traumatic event causes a seismic shift. Those can all be good or bad, I suppose, depending on the what.

Some people take a break from who they really are. They get caught up in the job, or the next job, or the children or whatever, and they’re too busy to think much about who they are or why they do what they do. I did too much of that when the kids were young. It’s exhausting! You get so absorbed in the relative trivialities of figuring out dinner or getting everyone their flu shot, you forget to count your actual blessings, ponder your role in the universe, remember your responsibilities to the greater good. You send a donation to the food bank and check it off the list.

Some people never get back to those basic questions.

What they might find, if they really looked, is that they’re not who they thought they are, or they’re not crazy about the more or less, or the world has evolved and they didn’t evolve with it. And really, no matter how good we are, we can be better. We can be braver. We can be more loving, more respectful. I know I can.

Here’s an idea. Before you vote, try to blind yourself to the party of each candidate. Ignore your friends and family and Facebook feed. Make a list of what you think is really good for America — all of America — and then see how each candidate stacks up.

I have a friend who would do anything for anyone in need. She fights for the rights of her gay brother. She wrote a long, angry post about the white woman who falsely accused a black boy of touching her inappropriately this week. She would defy anyone to tell her that she is worth less as a woman. She has a daughter in the military who will go off to war if it comes to that. She has been dependent on Obamacare for several years. And yet, like the majority of whites from poor, rural NC, she voted for Trump. Think about that.

I used to make fun of beauty queens who asked for “world peace.” Now I wonder how they got so beautiful and insightful (I’m being only slightly facetious).

I’m sure some of you are wondering why I’m waxing political on a beautiful fall day (here in the northern hemisphere at least) — why I wax political way too often. There is a phrase from my formative years that went something like, “The political is personal.” I’m sure I didn’t understand it as a child or even a young adult; like too many, I didn’t get why people cared so much about a bunch of old men in Washington.

The political is personal to the small brown children in cages. The political is personal to Tamir Rice’s mother, and Sandra Bland’s. The political is personal to thousands of gay teens living on the streets. The political is personal to my daughters as they seek to control their own bodies, their destinies. And yes, the political is personal to white men with guns and little else to their name in rural Georgia. I was blind to the pain of too many. And while I don’t abide by supporting someone whose pain is unnecessarily causing pain in others, I still feel their pain, too. Basic respect. Love thy neighbor — all of them. Set the example.

I will fail some more at these things, but I will keep trying.

Peace out and have a beautiful day; I am off to play with baby goats for the afternoon.

Looking for the Kind in Humankind. Heart currently Code Blue.

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